1636: Mission To The Mughals – Snippet 36
Iqtadar sniffed loudly through his hooked and oft-broken nose, said something Bertram translated as, “pretty smells.”
Iqtadar’s men laughed harshly.
Angelo trotted up a moment later, immediately asked what was afoot.
Bertram understood one in five words that followed and what he could comprehend left him confused.
Angelo asked a one-word question, got a curt reply. He shrugged and translated. “A party approaches. Iqtadar says they are armed, but says that, as the party is composed of eunuchs and women, it is of little concern.”
“But, I thought they closeted all women, kept them from public view.”
“The Muslims do, for the most part. This is…different.”
“How does that work?”
Angelo shrugged, “The Turki women are an exception. There are some tribes among them that are known to provide warrior women as guardians for the harems of potentates, but it is not very common and certainly unusual in the numbers the outrider claims ride toward us.”
“Then the numbers indicate someone powerful enough to ignore certain…irregularities?”
Angelo nodded. “Almost certainly. In fact, they are likely commanded by someone in the emperor’s household.”
A troop of cavalry appeared in the distance, riding the shaded road that led to the capital.
“Headed toward us, that’s sure,” Angelo said.
“Yup,” John murmured. “And Angelo’s right, there’s some Amazons with ’em. In fact, only a few of them have what the locals consider a proper beard.”
Bertram glanced back at the up-timer, saw the man was using the telescopic sight of his rifle to get a better look.
“No guns, though. Just bows, swords and lances.”
“Perhaps you should lower the rifle, John. They may take umbrage.”
* * *
Salim let out a slow breath as the man in the van of the column lowered the up-timer rifle.
He’d seen what the weapons could do one cold European afternoon. The Albernian Mercenary Company had held the bridge against formidable odds all day, using rifles much like the one the up-timer held. That skirmish had furnished plenty of evidence that a trained rifleman could easily remove any of his riders from the saddle at distances far greater than the two hundred gaz or so of road separating them. He’d even done a fair amount of shooting with one, himself. In fact, it had only been running out of ammunition that had made him toss a wounded North off the bridge and light the bomb fuse meant to bring the bridge down. The memory of the freezing waters closing over his head and the desperate swim that followed caused him to shiver despite the rising heat of the day.
“What is it, Amir?” The woman’s voice drew him from the spell of memory.
Salim glanced aside, found bright eyes regarding him over a chain mail veil and recognized Atisheh, one of the warrior-maidens of the harem. Despite her seeming inattention, she rode with ease and practiced grace.
He waved a hand, clearing away the memories. “Nothing. A memory.”
She nodded at the party on the road ahead. “This is them?”
“Oh, yes. They have at least one of the weapons from the future. See the man sitting next to the giant one, the one settling something that looks like an arquebus on his back?”
Her eyes narrowed. “I see him.”
“That is a rifle. A much more dangerous firearm than any to be had outside of the village from the future.”
“The bearer is no rider, though. Look how he sits his horse. He’d be thrown after shooting.”
“Perhaps. The up-timers are not known for their skill at horsemanship. They relied on mechanical contrivances to convey them about.”
The conversation had carried them across much of the distance separating the two columns of horse. He raised a hand. His riders slowed, came to a halt a bare hundred gaz from the up-timers. “Atisheh, you and Abdul are with me.”
Abdul’s expression soured slightly. Clearly, his lieutenant did not care for this assignment — or perhaps, simply didn’t like to be seen riding with women and eunuchs.
* * *
“Let’s not make any sudden moves,” Angelo said, eyeing the riders just coming to a halt about a hundred yards away.
“No, let’s not,” John agreed. Every one of the warriors bore bow and blades, riding with an easy grace John could never hope to match. The women and some of the men — eunuchs, he supposed — wore both silks and mail. He never would have thought someone wearing that much silk could be so intimidating.
A big fellow emerged from the center of the riders, bearded and capable-looking. One of the women rode with him, as well as another man with a full beard, this one cut from the same mold as the first guy and — John looked sideways at Iqtadar. Looks like small West Virginia towns ain’t the only places to spawn folks with a similar look.
By pre-arranged plan, John, Iqtadar, and Angelo rode forward ten yards or so and came to a stop.
Iqtadar edged forward a bit more, peering at their opposites. After a moment he shouted, “Abdul?”
John flinched. The sudden noise and his rider’s movement made his mount rear. John kept his seat with far greater ease than he would have just a week ago. So much so that he was able to watch as the man to the right of the leader smiled broadly and called back, “Iqtadar!”
“You know this man?” he asked, through Angelo.
Iqtadar smiled, nodding. “I do. He is my kinsman.”
When the two parties drew close enough for regular conversation, the central figure spoke in accented but perfectly understandable English, “You are the envoy from the United States of Europe?”
Swallowing surprise at the man’s command of English, John nodded. “I am both envoy and authorized to speak on behalf of the others with that status in our party.”
“Shah Jahan, the Sultan Al’Azam…” the man launched into another series of untranslated titles and powers before returning to English, “greets you and offers you shelter in the shadow of his power for as long as you desire.”
Angelo gave a barely audible sigh. John shot a look the Venetian’s way. He looked a little deflated he hadn’t been called on to translate.
“We accept in the name of His Majesty Gustavus Adolphus and the duly elected government of the United States of Europe.”
“I am Amir Salim Gadh Visa Yilmaz, your mihmandar — your” — he searched for the proper term — “host for the duration of your stay. I am at your service. Whatever your needs, I will make every effort to see them met.”
“That is most kind of both the emperor and you, Amir. I am Mister John Dexter Ennis of Grantville.” He gestured at Iqtadar. “It appears our guide and defender, Iqtadar, is known to some of you.” He nodded at Angelo. “And this is Angelo Gradinego, our translator, late of Venice. There are others in the mission I’ll have to introduce you to, but on behalf of all of us, and Gustavus Adolphus, Emperor of the United States of Europe, I wish to inform you how pleased we are to be to be met with such a strong party.”
“As soon as he learned of your coming, Shah Jahan was overtaken with desire to see you in person.”
That might not be an entirely good thing: Don Francisco had said the Mughal diplomat bought some books in Grantville that revealed the history of European dealings in India — which had often been anything but savory.
“We also look upon the chance to meet the emperor with excitement and hope for a prosperous future.”
The amir relaxed fractionally and then waved a big hand at his male companion and across at Iqtadar. “With your permission, my kinsmen desperately want to talk to one another.”
“Your kinsmen?” John asked as the men in question started catching up with one another in rapid-fire Persian.
A small smile, nearly lost in the man’s beard. “Iqtadar does not recognize me, as I have been gone for some time, but we are cousins as well.”
“I am only recently returned from Europe myself. I was part of Baram Khan’s diplomatic party.”
Salim’s expression did not betray any feeling, one way or another, on the matter of Baram Khan’s fate.
“Shall we join our two parties and continue?”
Angelo spoke up, translating for Iqtadar, who called a command and waved at the rest of the mission, even as the amir did the same to his warriors.
The escorts quickly formed up on either side of the mission.
Rodney, Gervais, and Bertram put heels to their horses, moving to join them at the front. Further back, John saw their wives and the warrior women among their escorts eyeing one another like two rival packs of wolves from some nature show, each pack uncertain of the other.
He turned back to Salim in time to catch the other man watching him.
“We had information that you were traveling in company with your wives.”
“Yes. Will that pose a problem?”
“No, not at all. I believe an opportunity to converse with your wives will please Begum Sahib immensely.”
“The Princess of Princesses: Jahanara, eldest daughter of Shah Jahan.”
“Right, I knew that. It was her that, indirectly, provided our escort. Please forgive my lapse. The ah…The royal family is in good health, then?”
“Good to hear.”
“What is it?”
“Forgive me if I misspeak, but I think you, like me, are not made for diplomatic speeches.”
John laughed, and was still laughing when Rodney, Bertram and Gervais joined them.
“What has you in stitches?” Rodney asked in English.
“We were just commiserating over our mutual lack of appreciation for the niceties of diplomatic speech,” Salim explained.
Rodney’s expression on hearing both Salim’s excellent English and the entirely accurate assessment of John’s character was so priceless it set John off again.